To: Honorable Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, SUNY Senior Vice- Chancellor for Community Colleges Johanna Duncan-Poitier, SUNY Board of Trustees, Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York MaryEllen Ellia, New York State Board of Regents, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Honorable Edward P. Mangano Nassau County Executive, Honorable George Maragos Nassau County Comptroller, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, Senator and Chair of Committee on Higher Education Kenneth P. LaValle, Assemblymember and Chair of Committee on Higher Education Deborah Glick, Director for Communications and Public Relations, Middle States Richard J. Pokrass, The New York Times, The Daily News, Newsday, and Inside Higher Education, Eric Richtmeyer, Thomas Fitch
Re: Call for the Removal of Dr. Kenneth Saunders from the Current NCC Presidential Search and for an Outside Investigation into Alleged Irregularities of that Search
The NCC AAUP Advocacy Chapter and the NCC Academic Senate Executive Committee are writing to express their concern regarding the past and current presidential search and the general mismanagement of Nassau Community College, which has been ongoing since President Sean Fanelli’s retirement at the end of 2009.
Our concerns are expressed in the letter below:
February 22, 2016
The first failed search: Since the end of Donald Astrab’s stormy thirty-month tenure as Nassau Community College’s president in July of 2012, the search (or to be accurate, the three searches) for his replacement has been an ongoing fiasco with tragic consequences. This embarrassing odyssey reached its nadir in May of 2013 when SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher intervened ordering Geoffrey Prime, then chair of the college’s Board of Trustees to suspend the search while he investigated “allegations of racial bias and a flawed process.” In an ensuing internal investigation, trustees who were not on the search committee questioned members of the search committee, but before the process was concluded, Chancellor Zimpher halted the search. On May 12, 2013 just as the search was imploding, Chair Prime suddenly quit. The search committee sent a thirty-page report to Chancellor Zimpher and the SUNY Board of Trustees addressing Chancellor Zimpher’s concerns. The report also refuted the allegations that Acting NCC President Kenneth Saunders raised in which he asserted that he was not one of the finalists because of bias and hostile questioning. In addition, the report noted that SUNY had violated its own rules for conducting a fair search by permitting Acting President Saunders to apply for the position while serving as the chief executive of the college. SUNY’s Presidential Search Guidelines specifically warn against the undue influence and pressure such an in-house candidate can bring to the process. Neither Chancellor Zimpher nor the SUNY Board of Trustees responded to the Search Committee’s report. The Board, under the acting leadership of Jorge Gardyn, finally agreed to invite the candidates to Garden City for interviews, before abandoning the effort as doomed at a meeting on 22 August 2013.
The second failed search: In September of 2013, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution to officially disband the failed search committee. In October of 2013 the Board tabled a resolution to form a new search committee. Finally, in January of 2014, trustees took steps to restart a search for a new NCC president and formed a new search committee. Newsday quoted chair Jorge Gardyn: “I believe that the end result of this process will be a president who is more than up to the task of ensuring NCC continues to be a pathway for educational excellence and career development for our students and a vital component for propelling Long Island’s economic growth.” After hiring Academic Search, Inc. to assist in the search process, the search committee announced a roster of five finalists for the post of president in March 2015, including Kenneth Saunders, still serving as Acting President. Newsday, once again quoting Dr. Gardyn, noted his “complete faith in the integrity and thoroughness of the search process.” Gardyn’s optimism proved premature. In June of 2015 it was clear the second search had failed as none of the five candidates had secured the necessary six votes to get the nod. Later in June, like clockwork, SUNY once again had to intervene, this time by setting a 60-day deadline for the end of Saunders’ acting presidency. It should seem obvious by now to even the most casual observer that this board (or significant elements of it) might fairly be called dysfunctional, if not politically motivated and incompetent and yet again Kenneth Saunders candidacy was at the center of the search’s failure.
A third (failed?) search: Shift to January 2016: the college announces a new slate of finalists, culled from its most recent search, a group of four that includes perennial aspirant, Kenneth Saunders. Keep in mind that this is the third presidential search, costing untold hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and nearly four years without permanent leadership. Meanwhile, enrollment has plummeted, the college’s reputation has been badly tarnished and tainted by suspicions of political corruption, and faculty morale is abysmal. We have become a “poster child” of administrative dysfunction and incompetence and an embarrassment to SUNY. To add to questions of cronyism dogging our current Republican dominated Board of Trustees was the appointment in December 2015 of former Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray (Republican) as NCC’s general counsel without the benefit of a full affirmative action search as required by the college. This is a textbook case of political favoritism. Nassau Community College is rapidly being transformed into a sphere of Republican influence peddling and governance.
That political transformation was never more evident than at the NCC Board of Trustees meeting on February 9, 2016 when Trustee Kathy Weiss, clearly upset, announced she had received an anonymous email (from “Andrea Campbell”) which identified one (male) candidate and statements he had made regarding his candidacy status. Trustee John DeGrace later interjected that there also exists a blog containing allegations about search improprieties. While he acknowledged this had been widely read, he urged the trustees to ignore it, along with the email, and to proceed with the search. Trustee Arnold Drucker, also referenced the same email allegations and urged Board Chair Gardyn to launch an independent investigation as the only way to preserve the integrity of the search. He further stated that to ensure the other candidates that the playing field was level, Dr. Kenneth Saunders should withdraw his name from the search. Eager to quell dissent, an apparently irritated Dr. Gardyn proceeded to request that Trustee Drucker step down as vice-chair of the Presidential Search Committee. Trustee Drucker refused. The meeting quickly descended into pure political theater as board member Edward Powers bullied every single speaker who approached the microphone, during the public session, by demanding: “Do you know Andrea Campbell?” (the alleged emailer). The clear implication of the meeting: the Board of Trustees is split between those wanting an investigation and those who do not. The naysayers appear to be Republicans.
Current Allegations Need to Be Investigated
We will state upfront that we cannot attest to the veracity of the allegations voiced by the email signed by an unknown “Andrea Campbell” or in the blog. But we concur with Trustees Weiss and Drucker that the allegations are serious and warrant investigation by an outside, independent entity. Briefly, they are as follows: former NCC Math Professor Jerrold Kornbluth, who had pleaded guilty in 1999 to a count of felony tax fraud and filing false statements was re-hired by the college as a full-time instructor in January 2013. In September 2013 Acting President Kenneth Saunders appointed Mr. Kornbluth as Acting Dean of Nursing (an odd choice to select a math instructor to fill such a position, no?), then as Acting Dean of Professional Studies. Via Kornbluth’s connections to Republican business and political interests, the allegations contend, Kenneth Saunders was being integrated into the good graces and influence of the Nassau County Republican political machine, and at the same time he was ascending to the top of the list to be the next NCC president. Kornbluth’s alleged influence peddling extended to the former student trustee who may have secured an internship with Destination LI with Kornbluth’s help and where Dr. Saunders conveniently serves on its advisory board. Trustee Anthony Cornachio later told Newsday that the student trustee had voted for Saunders. If true, these allegations add up to a disturbing narrative: NCC is becoming a site of personal and political patronage with control over its $200 million dollar budget as the prize. The allegations need to be investigated by an outside entity.
Why Dr. Kenneth Saunders Must Recuse Himself from the Presidential Search
It should be patently clear from the brief history of two failed searches and the current deeply troubled NCC presidential search outlined above that one name keeps cropping up, that of perennial candidate, Dr. Kenneth Saunders. It should be outstandingly clear that Dr. Saunders mere presence on list of potential candidates for this position makes it extremely unlikely that a wide pool of candidates will be attracted to the position knowing an insider might get preferential treatment. It should also be abundantly clear that Dr. Saunders, who was a key partner in the most notoriously divisive administration in NCC’s history (that of Donald Astrab), has done little to restore faculty confidence in NCC’s leadership. This should be stressed: Dr. Saunders was a partner to a president who was twice subject to overwhelming votes of no confidence. NCC has been governed by Dr. Saunders in whole or in part since at least 2010, and what does his record look like? It’s a record of failed management:
· From the 2014 Comptroller’s report: “Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos released a report today that found the graduation and transfer rate at Nassau Community College (NCC) dropped by more than a third from 2009 to 2012 to 28%, causing NCC to be ranked 31st out of 35 NYS community colleges. A significant finding shows that the dramatic decline coincides with a period of administrative turmoil at the College. Based on this finding, Comptroller Maragos recommends a permanent president be named as “soon as possible.”
· Enrollment has declined precipitously under Saunders’ watch to its lowest level in over twenty years while the budget situation has become perilous.
· Saunders has initiated actions that diminish the academic quality of NCC by overloading classes, lowering remediation standards and cutting Science and Math requirements in an environment where STEM is increasingly important.
· Respect for faculty, part-time and full-time, has worsened, especially as the Saunders administration has steadily encouraged the erosion of shared governance.
· Full-time faculty lines, a key to both student retention and success, have not been replaced. Kenneth Saunders has been overseeing a steady transformation of NCC into an adjunct-dominated institution. We could call this the “Walmart” effect, a college run by well-paid managers (the administration) with poorly paid part-timers doing the teaching.
· At an Academic Affairs meeting on January 28, 2016 Kenneth Saunders announced that he planned to make administrative appointments in July 2016. Only the president can make administrative appointments. This implies that he already knows the outcome of the presidential search even while the search has not been completed.
Middle States Accreditation in Jeopardy
The Self Study submitted by Nassau Community College to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education as part of our decennial review jeopardizes the College’s reaccreditation. The Self Study misrepresents the Academic Senate, the Senate Bylaws, and the shared governance process, thereby challenging our satisfaction of Standard 4: Leadership and Governance. Although the Academic Senate leadership communicated the problems in the Self Study to the Administration, these concerns were largely disregarded. It should be noted that as per the most recent Organizational Chart of September 28, 2015, NCC’s Middle States Self Study falls under the auspices of Executive Vice President Kenneth Saunders. (Organizational Chart attached) Dr. Saunders’ administration has threatened the College’s ability to satisfy the best practices outlined in Standard 4: Leadership and Governance.
Factual errors and unsubstantiated claims in NCC’s Middle States Self Study: The Senate Bylaws are referred to as an obstacle to shared governance. The Self Study fails to mention that the Bylaws are based on Section 20 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was ratified by the Board of Trustees. The Self Study misconstrues Senate procedures and asserts that the Bylaws encroach on the trustees’ power. This refers to the spring 2015 semester when the Academic Senate overrode the Presidential vetoes of three Senate Resolutions dealing with A.A. Liberal Arts degree revisions, placement testing exemption scores, and class size—all areas of responsibility clearly delegated to the Academic Senate by the Bylaws. The same Senate Bylaws, which are being criticized in the Self Study, were praised in the Middle States Accreditation Team’s 2004 Report, which cited the Bylaws as a demonstration of NCC’s “effort to conduct the operation of the College in a fair and equitable manner.” The Self Study falsely asserts that “the traditional academic calendar” as well as a reduced number of full-time faculty “create a challenging environment” for the completion of committee charges “in a timely manner.”
NCC’s SUNY Excels PIP Reveals a Flawed, Retrograde Vision of Higher Education
Perhaps nothing better makes our point about Dr. Saunders’ lack of fitness for the job of permanent president of NCC than the recently revealed travesty of educational vision that is the NCC SUNY Excels Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Dean Kevlin, Dean of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning (“OIESP”) put this document together. Dean Kevlin and the OIESP report directly to Executive Vice-President Saunders. It is inconceivable that this document went out without EVP Saunders’ review and approval. Furthermore, the OIESP does not formulate policy. This is the classic case of double incompetence: if he knew the content and permitted it to go out as written, he is incompetent (among other things). If he did not review the PIP this displays managerial ineptitude (among other things). The President’s cabinet of which Saunders is a member formulates policy. Also note, that that PIP was crafted in response to a 2015 SUNY request during the period that Kenneth Saunders was acting president.
From the perspective of scholars and educators, the NCC administration’s PIP, submitted without an iota of consultation with the NCC faculty, is an intellectual embarrassment and an ethical failure. Briefly, our concerns are these:
· NCC’s PIP is a deeply flawed and embarrassing document, and its weaknesses stem largely from the administration’s (an administration in which Dr. Saunders is deeply enmeshed) arrogant denial of shared governance processes, a denial easily explained by passages (written in very bad legalistic prose) that strongly imply the college’s rejection of the very concept shared governance. In fact, shared governance has become deeply inconvenient. NCC’s PIP envisions a kind of administrative coup d’état: by declaring shared governance to be “sclerotic,” the authors suggest that democracy itself, upon which shared governance is based, has become obsolete and something more authoritarian is preferred.
· NCC’s PIP contains language that demeans and trivializes the contributions of female faculty and reflects a worldview, at once patriarchal and sexist, that would be quite acceptable in America in the 1950s.
· NCC’s PIP peddles the soft racism inherent in current models of public higher education that track students of color away from autonomy-building liberal arts educations and toward the empirically suspect promise of “workforce education.” This model implies that students of color and all students from under-resourced communities (now the majority at NCC and at most community colleges) should not dare to dream big like their four-year higher education counterparts.
· NCC’s PIP forecasts a future faculty dominated by adjunct and contingent hires, a vision that will almost certainly continue NCC’s steady march toward mediocrity, low enrollments, and an ever-declining reputation because of the temporary nature of adjunct work. Adjunct faculty is poorly paid for classroom instruction. They are not paid for work that contributes to a robust college climate and subsequently have no time to hold office hours for their students or to serve on college committees or formulate new curriculum.
· NCC’s PIP acknowledges the need to hire more minority faculty but concludes that the path towards their inclusion will be via adjunct hires. This means that such minority faulty hires will be consigned to low-wage impermanence as they rush from job to job attempting to piece together a living. Hardly a recipe for resolving NCC’s need for adding permanent minority faculty who will enrich the college community’s culture and serve as role models and mentors for our students.
· PIP states it has “redesigned its entire set of associate degrees to ensure full compliance with SUNY Seamless Transfer Mandate. ” This is misleading. The Academic Senate passed a resolution complying with SUNY Seamless by reducing the credit requirements for an Associate Degree from 66 to 64. The NCC Board of Trustees unilaterally went beyond what was required by the SUNY mandate. They called for a general liberal arts degree revision with fewer than two math courses, two science courses and two physical education credits. This was not done to comply with the SUNY mandate.
· NCC’s PIP contains elementary math errors, the kind that a third grader would be embarrassed to make (the now infamous 61, 230 hours per calendar year).
· NCC’s PIP blames the faculty for problems that are wholly within the purview of the administration.
Based on this brief review, we call on the removal or recusal of Dr. Kenneth Saunders from the latest search for a permanent president of Nassau Community College. We also ask that the Board of Trustees immediately authorize a thorough and independent investigation into alleged irregularities in the current presidential search.
Dr. Kimberley Reiser, President, NCC AAUP Executive Committee and Dr. Evelyn Wortsman Deluty, Chair Nassau Community College Academic Senate